- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Post-Bulletin of Rochester, May 15

Licensing reforms promise to improve teacher recruiting

Minnesota needs more teachers, and it needs more minority teachers.

School districts across the state can’t find enough qualified teachers to fill positions, especially in areas such as special education, English as a second language, math and science. Large, urban districts struggle to find applicants, and in smaller, rural districts where the pay is lower, it’s even more difficult.

And when teachers are found to fill those positions, they’re almost always white. Statewide, 95.8 percent of teachers are white. In Rochester, where 37 percent of students identify as non-white, only 2.9 percent of teachers are non-white. Things are even worse in Austin, where 45 percent of students are non-white but just four of the district’s 396 teachers are non-white.

In other words, there’s a good chance that students in Rochester and Austin could complete 13 years of public school and never have a teacher who isn’t white.

School districts aren’t entirely to blame. They can’t hire minority teachers if none are applying and the teacher education system isn’t attracting diverse students. Indeed, Austin and Rochester are trying to tackle the problem head-on by partnering with Winona State University to help paraprofessionals — most of them minorities — make the step up to become teachers. Thirty-eight paraprofessionals will get their teaching degrees this spring.

But this is a statewide problem that will require a statewide solution, which is why we endorse the Legislature’s effort to overhaul, streamline and simplify the state’s teacher licensing procedures.

Last year, Minnesota’s Office of the Legislative Auditor declared that the teacher licensure system is “broken,” filled with “undefined and unclear terms.” This didn’t happen overnight; it occurred bit by bit over the years as rules were tweaked, modified and muddied.

Making things worse is the fact that the both the state Board of Teaching and the Minnesota Department of Education are involved in the licensing process. This means that while it’s somewhat complicated to earn a teaching degree and license at a Minnesota college or university, it’s dizzying for a teacher from Texas or California to navigate the credentialing process in Minnesota.

Both the House and Senate have developed plans that would create a new Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board and eliminate the involvement of the Board of Teaching and MDE. Although the plans aren’t identical, they both include a four-tiered system that would make it easier for out-of-state teachers to come to Minnesota, and for non-teachers to more easily use their professional experience to begin new careers in the classroom.

That’s an important, necessary change. For years Minnesota has been trying find a way to fill high-need teaching positions with well-educated, skilled people who don’t currently have teaching degrees. Those efforts have failed miserably; not one alternative teacher-prep program is operating in Minnesota today.

The proposed system would give people the opportunity to enter the profession without teaching degrees. Their training would continue while they teach, with the goal that they eventually would be fully certified to teach in Minnesota — and they could do it without having to complete a costly, time-consuming, credit-based degree program through a college or university.

These changes make great sense and can fill crucial needs in our schools, including the need to have Minnesota teachers better reflect the ethnic and cultural diversity of our students. Our colleges and universities aren’t training enough teachers, so school districts need to be able to recruit talented people from other states and other professions. That won’t happen as long as potential newcomers to our state have a hard time figuring out which hoops they have to jump through before they can begin preparing our next generation of nurses, scientists, welders, engineers — and teachers.

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Star Tribune of Minnepolis, May 10

The diversity problem on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals

When Associate Justice David Stras was appointed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty to the Minnesota Supreme Court at the tender age of 35, liberal eyebrows shot up. Stras was active in the conservative Federalist Society and had been a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Critics cast him as a right-wing ideologue.

It’s to Stras’ credit that little such muttering ensued when President Trump nominated him when Judge Diana Murphy moved to senior status on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. During seven years on Minnesota’s high court, Stras won over the skeptics with well-reasoned, non-ideological opinions that exhibit respect for written law. He’s well-liked by his peers and amply qualified for service on the Eighth Circuit Court.

That said, we share the lament of the Infinity Project about lack of diversity on the Eighth Circuit bench. If confirmed, Stras will be the 63rd judge to serve on the court. All but two have been male; only one has been a person of color. That overrepresentation of white males is a problem for the courts that the Infinity Project was created to expose and solve. A grass-roots advocacy organization founded in Minnesota a decade ago, the project holds that the courts better serve the public when those on the bench bring a range of life experiences and are widely representative of society.

Since 1979, Minnesota governors have used screening commissions to help identify qualified candidates with diverse backgrounds. At the federal level, Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, both Democrats, engaged a screening panel to advise them and Democratic President Barack Obama on Minnesota appointments to the bench. Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen has organized a similar group for the Trump presidency. But Paulsen’s commission wasn’t visibly involved in the Stras appointment, said Debra Fitzpatrick of the Humphrey School Center for Women, Gender and Public Policy.

Three of the 10 judicial nominees Trump advanced are women. We hope that means he’s not oblivious to the Infinity Project’s concerns, and that he will strive for more diversity on the Eighth Circuit bench with future nominations.

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The Journal of New Ulm, May 15

Investigate our meddling, too

A chorus of top Democrats are demanding an independent prosecutor be commissioned to investigate Russian tampering with the 2016 presidential election.

Fine. By all means, let us have a comprehensive, independent probe of links between Russian officials and U.S. politicians. And while we are at it, why not investigate attempts to influence elections in general, by American as well as foreign leaders?

President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey this week spurred some Democrats to accuse the White House of attempting to stymie a federal investigation of Russian election tampering. Though there is no evidence the Trump campaign cooperated in any way with Moscow in doing that, the president’s foes are hoping against hope they can find something to pin on Trump.

Comey was fired for egregiously political conduct while at the FBI, of course. His behavior was simply beyond the bounds of what is acceptable. His testimony during the past week before Congress - so flawed at one point that the Justice Department had to issue a correction - prompted Trump to decide the time to fire Comey had come.

But if there is to be an independent investigator, he should look into other questions. One involves Russian payments to the Clinton Foundation as then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton avoided blocking Moscow’s move to corner the world uranium market. Another could look into President Barack Obama’s attempt to sway an Israeli election. And, of course, there is the still-unresolved issue of Clinton’s lapses in handling government secrets that may have helped the Russians.

With all that on the table - as it should be - one wonders why on earth Democrat leaders would want a new investigation.

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